Making friends through Spanglish Speed-dating

Spanglish Speed-dating is listed as the number 3 most popular tourist activity in Buenos Aires on Trip Advisor, and after setting up house in Palermo, K and I thought this would be the perfect way to start making friends in our neighbourhood.

Hosted at the V Club, we’re greeted by 3 American ladies who help manage the popular Spanglish operation in Buenos Aires.

Perky spanglish lady explains – ‘How it works is all the Spanish speakers will stay in their seats, and the English speakers will rotate every 10 minutes. You will spend 5 minutes on each language before switching.’

T – But what if I don’t have 5 minutes worth of Spanish to contribute?

The Spanglish Experience.

Partner 1 – A pretty blonde Argentinian girl in her mid 20’s who took control of the conversation immediately.‘I don’t need to work on my English tonight so we’ll just spend the whole ten minutes in Spanish’ Then proceeds to vomit spanish verbal diarrhea, pausing only for what sounded like a question.

T, stares blankly in response. Then blinks.

Partner 1, repeats question S L O W L Y.

T, continues with blank stupid look, then breaks into a cold sweat over the pressure.

Partner 1, decides to cut me some slack after the silent pause enters the painful awkward stage that is NEVER comfortable between strangers – ‘Do you like Buenos Aires?’ in English

T, relieved to know the answer in Spanish – ‘Si!’

Partner 2 – An Argentinian man in his late 20’s called Daniel.
You may call him Dan, and Danny is also acceptable. Daniel is a quietly strange character who admits that his passion for computer games has stunted his social development somewhat. This, and a bad stint of bullying in school, has made it difficult for him to make friends. A very personal admission from someone you’ve just met.

T – ‘Sooooo…. what do you do for work Daniel?’

Partner 2 (Daniel) – ‘Oh, I am currently unemployed.’ Looks down shyly

T, making light of the situation – ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m unemployed too!’ smiles

Daniel, looks me seriously in the eye and frowns slightly – ‘ You’re unemployed too? This. . this will be a problem.’

T, straight-faced, trying not to laugh ‘ oh, ok then..’

Partner 3 – A lovely Argentinian girl in her late 20’s called Marcela.

T, laying her cards out – ‘Look, my Spanish is really really bad.. like ‘merde’. But I really came to spanglish to meet people.. and I’m happy to help everyone with their english.

Marcela and I got along famously in English. We spoke about my travels, her upcoming travels, and a potential future meet up in New York.

Something spooky – Marcela and her good friend Lucia, my partner 4, met while both working for the Buenos Aires office of my ex-employer, and they later invited me to a birthday party for a third person who worked for that same company! Wierd coincidence..

Spanglish outcome – I made 3 great Argentinian girlfriends (Marcela, Lucia and Victoria) and learnt to say ‘Lo siento, mi español es muy, muy mal’, which means ‘I’m sorry, my spanish is very very bad…’

Before the people, first came the food – The Argentinian steak experience

Our first day in Buenos Aires was spent strolling along the riverbank of Peurto Madero in search of the perfect melt-in-mouth, Argentinian steak experience.

I’d had this mouth melting experience once before, a couple of years ago at a restaurant called Rockpool in Sydney. The steak was unbelievable, dreamlike, like INCREDIBLE in the way I’d expected the Inca Trail to be INCREDIBLE!

I dreamt about that steak for a week after, and to this day speak of the memory fondly.. I was looking forward to comparing Argentinian steak, which I kept on hearing was the best meat in the world, to my prior ultimate steak experience at Rockpool.

In my company was Amy (who was in Buenos Aires for a couple of days before flying home to Australia) and K (who is a vegetarian). Together, we carefully scrutinised every menu from the many waterfront restaurants of Peurto Madero before selecting out of desperate hunger rather than thoughtful consideration a restaurant called La Cabana.

T, logically – ‘They have a stuffed cow next to their menu. They MUST do great steak.’

Our waiter seats us and takes our drink order.

K – ‘Tap water?’ joking (I think)

Waiter, a well-spoken, out-of-work-actor type – ‘No, this is NOT a budget restaurant. If you want tap water you have to go to Burger King’

Offended, we silently eye each other.. he thinks we’re poor unemployed travellers! Which we were. But to prove him wrong, we sat up straight and ordered whatever steak we thought would meet our carnivorous fantasy best, sparing no expense on beef or wine.

First, the complementary breads and spreads – The bread selection was freshly baked, varying from walnut fused to brown grained with a side of tasty eggplant, spice, and tomato salsa dips. We finish off the whole bread basket delicately, trying not to seem like poor starving backpackers. Another full basket appears, and disappears within minutes. Our message was clear – Gluttony does NOT equal poverty!

The complementary entree – The word ‘Complementary’ meant ‘comes with the restaurant cover charge of 16 Pesos per head’, which included a scrumptious trio of canapes – a tiny model of a chorizo burger, a soup spoon of clear gravy with fillet of chicken (yum!), and a baby empenada (vegetarian)

Mains – Beef Tenderloin with a side of creamy baked potatoes

Amy, to the waiter – ‘I want it RARE, like still moving on the plate’

T – ‘I’ll have mine bleeding, but not moving. Gracia.’

The tenderloin was tender, with the right balance of flavour from salting. However, the velvet texture was not consistent from start to centre and the tenderness did not melt – I still had to chew.

Overall it was a delicious 3 hour meal that hit just below my criteria of ultimate steak experience, but hit perfectly on the entertaining dining with great company in a gorgeous location, in a beautiful city that made you feel like you were on a vacation from your holidays.

Recommendation – If the melt in the mouth experience is what you’re after, stick to Kobe beef.

Enough of this camping bullshit, we’re off to Buenos Aires!

I knew (Mr)K and I would get along famously, when in conversation while in the middle of this amazing life adventure in the exotic and incredible South America, experiencing wonders such as the Cocla Canyon, Lake Titicaca, and Machu Picchu, he casually comments in his soft British accent‘Nothing impresses me..’

I found this hilarious! But at some level I understood. Something was missing in my travels since leaving the home of Sue and Roy in Lima. I’d been seeing the sights, enjoying the adventure, but I was lacking in experiencing the culture, in developing local friendships, the more personal experiences of being invited to Argentinian BBQ’s, house parties, and new friends homes for dinners, to drink yerba mate tea and have a smoke while listening to the Argentinian opinions and its popular and much loved rock music.. Some of the wonderful things that came from getting to know a country and its people. The people part was missing.

So it was with K that I traveled to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, rented an apartment for a month in the chic district of Palermo, and took a break from all the nature camping bullshit to gain a deeper familiarity with the more social and cultural aspects of Argentina.

Operation ‘Go Local’ begins.

Riding along a push bike honey! Conquering fears in Cafayate

Cafayate is a town located at the central zone of the Valles Calchaquíes in the province of Salta, Argentina, and is well-known because of its famous Torrontes wine products, which I can personally recommend drinking while eating the amazing pizza Cafayate offers from the many bars, restaurants, and cafes that line its pretty town square plaza.

A promoted activity is to hire a bicycle for the day and visit popular wineries that offer wine tasting and guided tours of their estate.

Gemma – T, will you get on a bike to do the wine tasting?’

T – No.’

Caitlin – ‘What about a triple seater bike?’

T, nervously – ‘If we get a triple bike, and I can ride in the middle… Sure!’

A word of advice – A three seater bicycle is a lot harder to manoeuvre and control, and is much more dangerous than it looks. You will feel and look like The Three Stooges, or The Goodies. People will point and laugh as you ride pass them wobbling, laughing, and in Gemma’s case shouting out instructions.

Gemma, as we quickly come up to a left turn on the road – Aaah hah! Now guys, the breaks don’t work so when I say break we all put our feet down. Ready, in 3, 2, 1, FEET DOWN FEET DOWN FEET DOWN!!’

The wineries – When taking a guided tour, request an english speaking guide for your english speaking group. Otherwise, only the french words like ‘Chandon’, ‘champenoise’, and ‘Merlot’, will be understood in between the spanish blabber.

The Torrontes whites were a personal favourite – Delicious! If it wasn’t for the motivation of these wines, and the support of Gemma and Caitlin, I probably would never have gained the courage to hop on a bicycle again *hiccup*

A love hate hate relationship – T and camping

Gemma – ‘You’re taking imodiums like it’s the contraceptive pill!’

I laughed at Gemma, because it was true – 8 hour bus journeys with a potential dodgy stomach without immediate access to a bathroom had taken its tole on me and I dealt with this the best I could by making the imodium tablets my life jacket, the security that I wouldn’t need to ‘give birth’ at an inconvenient time.

It didn’t help that we were starting to camp more and more, at locations where the toilet facilities scared my bowels shitless.

Camping and I had an arrangement – As long as I was blind drunk, or had taken a sleeping pill, I was allowed some sleep.

At the Salta rafting campsite early one rainy morning. I had taken a great Peruvian sleeping relaxant the night before.

Gemma, slightly panicked as the wind bellowed loudly against the tents walls and as the rain hammered down, sounding like we were in the middle of a cyclone, – ‘T! Our tents going to come down, what should we do?!’

T, cocooned in sleeping bag and half asleep, vaguely aware of water being sprayed on face from leak in tent – ‘Just close your eyes and pretend everything’s ok..’ pulls sleeping bag over wet head and dozes off while water starts rising in tent.

A while later that same morning, I hear voices outside the tent talking about ‘a tent in the middle of a lake’.

Gemma to T, laughing – ‘ I hope they’re not talking about our tent!’

T, not yet ready to deal with reality‘I’m scared if I look outside I’ll find that everyone else has taken down their tents, except us. And we’re alone in the middle of this giant puddle. Best not to look until we’re prepared to do something about it..’

There were other memorable camping moments, like the time I found myself squatting with a large rock lifted between both hands above my head, ready to strike down on a tent-peg. I’d given up on the hammer like tool I’d used at the start of my camping adventure, and had progressed to the more primitive caveman-like techniques. Gone were the days of sweeping the tent, we just put our sleeping bags over the dirt. Showering had also become a rare event.

I found myself sleeping in an ‘S’ shape most nights, curling unnaturally around the hard rocks in the earth where we had expertly pitched the tent.

T, grumpy – ‘I need a giant file’

Gemma – ‘Why?’

T – ‘So I can file down these jagged rocks in my back.’

Call me hardcore, or just plain inexperienced, but I didn’t think to bring a sleeping mat.

The moment of ultimate laziness – When Gemma and I started using the mens toilets at one campsite because it was right near our tent. Facilities were a row of three basins only, in the dark (no light), but with an automatic water cleaner in each basin.

Thinking back to how ridiculous we looked and felt, sitting with our bums in the mens basin, in the dark with our pants around our knees, terrified that some guy was going to walk in and see us.. still makes me laugh out loud. That we had prefered this discomfort and potential humiliation over walking a few minutes to the ladies bathroom!

Question – Has camping made me a better person in any way?


Salta rafting – Accidents, injuries, dogs.. fun!

A two hour drive from Salta city is Juramento River’s gorge, located at kilometre 34, where we excitedly set up camp and got ready for our rafting adventure.

There were 8 people in my raft, 6 women, 2 men, and our guide Frank, a cheeky and entertaining German man who has lived in Argentina for past four years.

Frank – ‘Today, is almost perfect. I only have two problems today… and they’re sitting in the back.’ referring to the men in the raft.

The river was beautiful, bordered with multi-coloured dirt mountains the shades of sapphire and emerald unpolished gems. It was a sunny gorgeous day for what was my most enjoyable excursion in South America (The Inca trail wins the most memorable and amazing award) . Sun, scenery, water, good company.. the only thing missing down these 15 rapids was the wine!

A very unique feature of Salta rafting – The labrador dogs have been ingeniously trained to work as life guards, complete with life jackets, and will jump into the river to swim a safety rope to whoever goes over-board. Incredible!

Accidents and injuries.
After a particularly violent bump against the rapid, both Amy and Caitlin bounced out of the raft. Frank quickly hauled Caitlin back into safety however Amy wasn’t as lucky and was swiftly swept away.

Amy – ‘I just told myself not to panic and put my feet forward like we’d been told, but the rocks were hitting my arse and I kept swallowing water, I was freaking out but all I could do was smile’ And smile she did! A frozen open-mouthed smile of bewilderment that got tinier and tinier. And tinier.

V lost a tooth when a paddle hit her in the face while trying to perform ‘rock and roll’ (when everyone has to go from sitting on the edge of the raft, into the body of the raft.)

T, looking at V with blood running down the side of her mouth – ‘Poor girl, you’d be FURIOUS at whose ever paddle it was.’

Girls in the raft – ‘It was her own!’

T – ‘Oh… well, when you have only yourself to blame, it doesn’t seem so bad.’

Recipe for how to make a complete arse of yourself and ruin New Years Eve.

Step 1 – Ingredient, stupidity
Down three (3) tequila shots in a row, in a tall glass, with the alcoholic lust of the father figure from the British TV series ‘Shameless’. The bartender should not need to measure out these shots with a shot glass.

Step 2 – Ingredient, Shame
Pass out cold at the bar. For an extra shameful experience, make sure it’s a public display, in front of a large crowd, to locals and foreigners alike.

Step 3 – Ingredient, extra shame with a healthy dose of guilt
Have the bar tender carry you out of the bar, the doctor in the crowd slap you and check your eyes which have long since rolled back to the safety and comfort of the back of your head somewhere, and 3 friends struggle to carry your dead weight home to the camp site. Totally inconveniencing and disturbing everyone else’s celebrations. (sorry!)

Step 4 – Ingredient, comedy and visual impact
Ensure before dramatically exiting the bar that you throw up on someone. Someone who’s dancing badly.

Step 5 – Ingredients, surprise, shock, anger, guilt, all of the above, and acceptance
Wake up 14 hours later in a tent, on a steaming hot afternoon, with NO RECOLLECTION of what happened after having the tequila shots, feeling well rested and having the only clue to something gone horribly wrong being the expression of fear and worry on Gemma’s face.

T, to Gemma with a look that went from blissfully ignorant to shocked horror – ‘WHAAAT?!’ Then starts laughing at how ridiculous it was ‘ well, at least I don’t remember any of it.’ thanks God for tiny favour.

New Years Eve 2010/2011
I was super excited about spending New Years eve in Salta, Argentina. It was going to be an interesting one seeing as I’ve never been camping before a NYE night out (or any night out) and had to get ready in a tent. The mood at the site was jovial. I’d had 3 glasses of Vodka Fanta, a large bowl of pasta, and after a few hours at around 11pm we headed into Salta town. It was my first time in Salta city and I was amazed that the streets were empty and quiet. Very ‘un’ NYE like. We walked for 40 minutes to the tourist bar street, deciding spontaneously on the lucky bar.

Between 4 of us, we order a bottle of white wine as the NYE drink, which made it just in time for the count down. I had 2 glasses of wine.

I remember having the tequila shots with friends – In my defense, this is what I normally do, I am a shot girl. On nights out it’s no surprise to find me having shots with some friend or another, then dancing drunkenly and chatting until 7am in the morning. My liver had been in this situation many times over!

Gemma – ‘I was talking to you at the bar and you were fine, having a normal conversation with me, and then I went to the bathroom and literally in 10 minutes you had passed out.’

Gemma 2 – ‘I saw this guy next to you at the bar, and you had passed out, and he had his arm around you. I told him to get away from you!’

Theories – A few people believe my drink was spiked. Others think I have the alcohol tolerance of a 16-year-old school girl.

Either way, I was Gods joke on NYE, an embarrassing, passed out cold, vomiting spectacle. Not how I envisioned myself at 30. On the up side, I found total humiliation left me with no awkward feelings when greeting the group the next afternoon and taking their ridicule.

T to Gemma, smiling warily – ‘When the humiliation is this bad there’s no emotions really… Nope, It doesn’t get any better than this!’

Massive lesson – When you start appreciating and thinking more about your future or past, life somehow finds a way to make you present. In its own sick way…

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